Minister for Communications and Digitalization, Mrs. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful has stated categorically that she won’t stop and nothing will bring an end to her vision and desire to see women shine and move to higher positions in all aspect of life.
She indicated that women are not to be left in just some small space, but are to succeed, have power and control aspects of life.
She made this known in an interview with The Africa Report in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, on the sidelines of the Smart Africa Connectivity conference.
Speaking about her first-time role as Minister and cabinet member in the Akufo-Addo administration, she explained that she was left with more prospect in making big difference in the sector she was appointed to.
She indicated that she saw the position given to her as an avenue to create and enforce laws to ensure good cybersecurity space for the country, which is a delicate balancing act.
“I’ve always been curious, and a lifelong learner; I’m interested in learning new things and always accept a challenge. I was so terrified, because it hard never occurred to me how many dangers there were online until I took that role. I didn’t know then that’s a few years on, I’d be appointed as a minister in charge of setting up Ghana’s cybersecurity infrastructure because we didn’t have anything on the ground”.
She added, “We’re aware of some of the dangers attached to it. We look to implement regulations properly so that we safeguard the public interest, while we also don’t stifle growth in these areas. We have constant interactions with particularly girls in our senior high schools, and even younger, to teach them how to stay safe online, and what the dangers are out there.”
Ghana has a broad framework cyber security law that was passed in December 2020 which Owusu-Ekuful says is used to combat potential criminal or antisocial uses of these innovations, and even electoral fraud.
“Child online protection is huge for us. We have constant interactions with particularly girls in our senior high schools, and even younger, to teach them how to stay safe online and what the dangers are out there”.
On other interventions she has managed to achieve in her role, she said as cybersecurity affects every aspect of the public and private sector, she has managed to sustain a joint committee composed of various agencies representatives who deal with such issues to the easiest way.
“I decided, what can I do to make it easier for more women to shatter this glass ceiling and be more involved in telecommunications? We can do much better. After other initiatives, they were building their own websites and developing simple games. Now, before the mentorship session we asked them, ‘What would you like to be in future? What’s your career goal? And almost invariably are the traditional occupations that they talk about; nursing, teaching, maybe military service, doctors, lawyers.
“They had change of mind just after one week of training, they said, ‘I want to be a software engineer, I want to build my own robots. I want to work in the telecoms company, I want to climb a cell site and do it myself. The young girls were exposed to women in technology, who worked in big tech firms and came to talk about the experiences.”
Speaking on the Girls-in-ICT initiative, she said the programme has been expanded to different regions across the country, with the inclusion of a competition where the top 100 are given computers.
“They see a wide level of experiences where women are interacting with digital technology in the workplace; and we make them tell us what they experienced. I have stacks of letters from them, saying things like what a life-changing experience that has been for them, and some had never even seen a computer before this experience. When I took over this position, it occurred to me that we need to take deliberate steps to foster inclusion of women and young girls in the space” she said with smiles.
The Ablekuma West lawmaker has travelled widely, including as a lawyer which she participates in legal aid outreach and legal education programs throughout the country.
“When I took over this position, it occurred to me that we need to take deliberate steps to foster inclusion” adding that, such mindset pushed her to lobby for government to get loans and credit facility to expand connectivity to 20% of the population who are unconnected. The programme she said includes the rollout of 2,016 cell sites to connect four million rural Ghanaian across the country.
Some 1,000 cell sites have already been installed, adding that the ministry is facing challenges getting the rest of the funding due to the current economic crisis, but the goal is to complete it by the end of the year.
“One thing we noticed is that the minute the network goes live in an area, which we thought was a rural area, capacity is almost always used up – so they’re hungry for it. People understand how important digital connectivity is to their normal lives and it’s become a utility, and everybody’s using it. So, we shouldn’t leave anyone behind and for us, this (is] not just a mantra, it is a challenge that we’re facing head on and addressing.”
Ursula Owusu-Ekuful says that it’s not just enough to understand Artificial Intelligence (AI) and computer technology; but where the data being gathered, stored, and utilized is important.
“What input are we making into the data? What are Africans doing? Are there inbuilt biases, because of the nature in which it is developing? We really do need to educate ourselves on these emerging technologies, attract our citizens in the diaspora who have knowledge in those areas, and create opportunities for policy learning sessions so that we can all update ourselves so that when they are talking, we know what they’re talking about”.
Instead of pushing back and slowing down the clock for technology, she believes Africans need to be on board from the beginning, and not try to deal with Al when it is too late.
A dedicated women’s rights activist, she has pushed to create space for more women and girls, recalling when she became a member of the Ghana Telecommunications Company board, she looked around and saw few women.
“I asked myself] ‘what can I do to make it easier for more women to shatter this glass ceiling and be more involved in telecommunications? But it’s a specialized area, so you have to start early with training, and the first step is to generate an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM education] in our girls,” she says, noting that more women should be in such a lucrative sector.